Saturday Miscellany — 6/8/19

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    A Book-ish Related Podcast Episodesyou might want to give a listen to:

  • O&F Podcast, Ep. 196: Patricia BriggsStrout talks to Briggs about a whole host of stuff — I appreciated her talking about grief and what it did to her writing, and the pressures of hitting the NYT Best-Seller List. But just an enjoyable chat overall.

    This Week’s New Release that I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey — a PI is called in by her estranged twin to solve a murder at a Hogwarts-esque private school? Sign me up.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to weewritinglassie, crimebookjunkie and David for following the blog this week.


In Medias Res: Dead Inside by Noelle Holten

As the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through.

It’s been so long since I’ve done one of these, I’d forgotten it was a thing I do. Whoops.


Dead Inside
Dead Inside

by Noelle Holten

Book Blurb:

When three domestic abuse offenders are found beaten to death, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she is facing her toughest case yet.

The police suspect that Probation Officer Lucy Sherwood – who is connected to all three victims – is hiding a dark secret. Then a fourth domestic abuser is brutally murdered. And he is Lucy’s husband.

Now the finger of suspicion points at Lucy and the police are running out of time. Can Maggie and her team solve the murders before another person dies? And is Lucy really a cold-blooded killer?

I’m at the 55% mark — and I’m hooked. Holten’s got this way to get into your head. While I’m loving every second of this book, I’m having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel.

Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you’re not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate — like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas.

This is a slow build of a book — given the blurb, I figured the bodies would have piled up by now, but they haven’t (much). Slow, but things are happening and the story telling is gripping – pulling you further and further in with each chapter. I don’t have a clue who the killer is, but I think the motive is clear (but, honestly, if it’s something else, I’d be impressed that she did such a great job faking out the reader). I’ve got a list of candidates for the killer, and could make a case for each one — but again, I halfway expect Holten to shock me.

Unless everything falls apart in the next 40% or so, this is probably going to end up as one of the best Mystery/Crime Fiction novels of 2019.

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Devri Walls

Ages ago (it seems), Devri Walls stopped by to talk about her stand-alone The Wizard’s Heir, and gave us a little taste of her upcoming series, Venators (including a cover that I don’t think I ever saw again). Since then, I’ve actually spoken to her at book store events and a comic convention (sat in on a couple of her panels, too). At the book launch for her most recent book, Venators: Promises Forged, (see my earlier post) she did a Q&A that got a couple of questions percolating in the back of my mind. Before I knew it, I had enough for one of these posts and Devri was able to find a time to answer them.

Before I get to the Q&A, a word about that book launch — Devri seems to have a good number of solid fans, it’s encouraging to see — from a wide age-range, too. She had more people in the front row of her reading than were in the audience of the last reading I’d been to at Rediscovered Books (and that author had one of the major publishing houses behind him) — and she had some Facebook live viewers, too. It’s good to see an indie author getting that kind of support.

As is usual when I get a second shot with someone, we got a little more into details of the particular book/series in question—but I don’t think you have to be a Venators-reader to appreciate these answers. Check them out and then go grab her books.

You’ve talked about how everyone’s favorite character is Beltran (I demur), given his appeal/popularity—how hard is it to keep him from taking over the series? How are you going about that?
This book is different in that there really are a lot of main players. This is going to allow Beltran to have a large role, and you’re going to see him really stepping into that in book three. But yes, he cannot take over. I think the key when working with strong supporting characters is that although they can have a heavy-handed part in the story, at the end of the day, they can’t be the hero. They can assist the hero, they can motivate the hero, they can set up a hero, but they can’t actually “pull the trigger”, so to speak. Given who Beltran is this will be tricky, but it has to be done in order for the climax to feel satisfactory to the readers.
Let’s talk about names for a minute: there’s a lot of creativity and strangeness in names (up to Rune from Earth), but then you give us Tate. An oddly Earthy name. Is that just to mess with people? I’ve always wondered, but never asked anyone—how do you come up with character names? Is the process different per series/world/book?
This made me laugh! No, I was not trying to just mess with you. Although I will admit to giving the giant race ridiculously human names because it amused me. However I promise to keep it consistent. With Tate on the other hand, he is part Venator, which means he’s part human. It made sense to me that given the backstory of this world and its connection to earth that there would be human names floating around both in the human villages as well as the Venators.

When it comes to choosing names there is there rare occasion that I will just completely make a name up, but for the most part I lean heavily on baby name websites. People are ever disappointed when I give this answer because they think that we authors pull all of these things out of our heads. The thing I looove about the baby name websites is that I can sort the results. For example, I can choose to look at old Scottish names specifically or only Norse names. This allows me to keep a consistent feel through an entire story, or in a book like Venators, a consistent feel within different species.

Normally before I even start a book I will visit baby name websites. Trying to choose names is both a time suck and a momentum killer for me. If I have a list of names both male and female that I have decided I like ready to go, then I have a very short list to reference when I add a new character.

Talk to me a little more about Arwin the wizard. First, how am I not supposed to think about Liv Tyler/the Lady of Rivendell? Secondly, the brilliant character who probably knows more about what’s going on than anyone, but plays the doddering, clumsy fool is a mainstay. How hard is it to pull that character off convincingly? And why have you gone that route with him—is it just because that’s more interesting than the super-powerful, all wise type?
I think anytime you’re working with a genre like fantasy there’s always going to be things that remind you of other stories. It’s, dare I say, almost unavoidable. But instead of fighting this, I did lean into the tropes on purpose. I wanted to play on the idea that all the stories and legends we tell today originated in Eon. In order to do that some of the threads needed to feel very familiar, while others I purposely twisted. Just like in the game telephone the end result will have some aspects of truth and some other things that have drifted far from the truth. That’s the basis that I was working from when deciding lore and chapter traits to keep or leave.

As far as Arwin’s character is concerned, I did choose to portray him as doddering very specifically. I needed to balance the story. When you look at the council you have a werewolf, vampire, incubus, succubus, elf, fae and wizard. From that list, three characters are very intense and serious. One of the characters is cruel and although she think she has a sense of humor, it’s dark and malevolent. Two of the characters have the ability to break tension in a scene but the sexual themes that run through that tension break is only sustainable for so long. And although all of these characters are much, much deeper than their facades, it’s the facades that they must present at the council house in order to keep themselves and their own people safe. Which means that by default every council scene will become unavoidably stifling. I needed someone to diffuse the situation and add a lightness to the writing. Thus, Arwin’s portrayal was born. Now, we are too early in the edits so I can’t guarantee that this scene will stay, but in book three we get a delightful taste of Arwin dropping that part of himself and showing the reader exactly what he is capable in a Council meeting by breaking up a argument between Dimitri and Silen. I think both you and the readers will be very happy with the result.

Now that you’ve told me about it, the scene has to stay. At the very least it needs to be included as a cut scene in an appendix. Or there will be rioting in the streets! (assuming I can figure out how to instigate one)

Can you tell me about the timeline for this series? A lot has happened in less than 2 weeks in Eon (assuming my memory/math is right), your poor characters have barely been able to catch their breath—are you planning on some kind of time jump? Is it going to keep going at this pace?

I’m a big believer in whatever timeline is natural and working for the story is the timeline that I’m going to use. Most of my work has always been a continual line without a lot of time jumping. For the first few books in the series I expect that will continue with small time jumps added to account for travel days. When we get past book five, I suspect we may need a time jump and some summarization of their day to day life when their world is not completely falling apart. But yes, overall I take it as it comes and I like a very logical and linear progression.
At the book launch, you talked a lot about what you’ve got worked out for the future in terms of plot and character—but I want to look at the world. How much of Eon have you mapped out (mentally or literally), do you know this world’s geography or is it more of a case of “I need an area like X, I’ll put it overrrrrr…here!”
Oh geography, I hate geography. Maps really do hurt my head. By happy accident I made a new writer friend who looooves making maps. So much so that she actually sat down with me and offered to map out the first general idea of Eon. It was very basic. However, as I’ve been writing book three and thinking through the plot points for the next couple of books, I realized that in order to set things up properly the geography absolutely had to be handled. Almost all of the council members areas have now been mapped out with the exception of Tashara and Shax for reasons I will explain in another book. But yes, there is actually a solid map on my wall now and despite the process causing me an aneurysm, I do really like the end result. Having something solid to refer to has been great. I definitely see the advantage to mapping things out at the start of the story and will probably move more toward doing that earlier in future projects.
I’m glad you were able to find some time in your hectic schedule for these answers and hope Promises Forged is a big success (and that you survive the editing process for #3!)

Saturday Miscellany — 6/1/19

For a week that contained both a sober Monday holiday (I meant in tone, not in day off alcohol consumption for most) and the last week in the month I have a pretty long list today. Odd. I don’t know if anyone’s picked up on this — over the past 313 weeks I’ve developed general outline that I like to follow with this post, and I try to get a flow going from one idea to another. It’s hard to describe — but for those who fixated on making the perfect mixtapes back in the 90’s, you know the idea. This week defied almost all of my attempts for any of that. It’s not important, and I’m 99.6% certain that I’m the only one who will notice. But I spent too much time last night working on it — oh the silly things we find to obsess over. It’s actually probably almost as much time to write and revise this paragraph than I spent on the effort, in point of fact — but it distracted me for longer than that last night.

Also, it’s just been a strange week around my house — not good or bad, just strange. All said, I’m in a generally amused frame of mind (which led to me counting how many of these I’ve done). Hopefully that comes through…

I think I’ve babbled on long enough — not quite Harry Knowles length yet, but getting there. On with the odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Release I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Dead Inside by Noelle Holton — First off, if you’ve ever read or heard her on Two Crime Writers and a Microphone, you know that Holten knows Crime Fiction. And has a great deal of enthusiasm for it. She brings both to bear in this new book. I read the prologue/first chapter, whatever it’s called yesterday. It was dark. It was creepy. It left me with a deep sense of foreboding and dread. Which is exactly what it’s supposed to do. There’s a rash of abusive husbands being killed, and a probation officer (Holten’s actual profession, by the way) is a very likely suspect. A killer you’re going to sympathize with (at least a bit), an interesting suspect and a smart DC on the case? I can’t wait to get further in.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Sesame Limited, devouringbooks2017, theguywiththebook and geekhutdrone for following the blog this week.

The Controller by Matt Brolly: The Good, The Bad and The Iffy

I’m putting stars here because I feel I have to (this book is another one tipping me against the practice), but I reserve the right to revise these when book 2 is released — and because I know I’ll round up for Goodreads/Amazon. The words are the important bit here.

The ControllerThe Controller

by Matt Brolly

Series: Lynch and Rose, #1

eARC, 404 pg.
Oblong Books, 2019

Read: May 17 – 21, 2019

FBI Special Agent Sandra Rose is called out to the scene of a home invasion turned hostage situation. It feels routine, but serious — and when things go wrong in pretty unexpected ways, it goes really, really wrong — and lets you know right away that this is not a book for the faint of heart. As nasty as things start out, the tattoo on the perpetrator’s back points to things getting worse, “half tattoo, half scar tissue,” is how it’s initially described. Later we’re told a bit more:

It was a Railroad tattoo. Carved by machete onto the man’s back, coloured by blue tattoo ink. Two long parallel lines stretched the length of Razinski’s back interspersed with a number of horizontal lines joining the two lines together.

Yeah, “carved by a machete.” You read that right.

Two thoughts spring to mind. I’ll never complain again about the needles on a tattoo machine during shading again; and Brolly is really not messing around here.

This tattoo is the mark of an Urban Legend, an “X-file”, a Wild Goose, an FBI Snipe Hunt — one that unfortunately might not be a legend, a Snipe or anything but a reality that the Bureau should’ve taken seriously years ago rather than writing off as a myth. Immediately Rose arranges for the one man who believed in The Railroad’s existence, former Special Agent Samuel Agent to be brought in for a consultation.

Lynch not only believed in their existence, he’s a victim of The Railroad. Six years ago — when he started to make some progress against them (if you ask him), Samuel Lynch’s 7 year-old son, Daniel, went missing. Lynch has long believed — scratch that, known that The Railroad was responsible for that disappearance and that knowledge and drive to uncover the truth about Daniel’s disappearance and The Railroad’s existence is what led to his dismissal a few months later. Now he’s being told that Daniel hasn’t been killed by The Railroad, but that he’s alive, and still in their custody. There’s hope. A small bit of hope.

At this point, I don’t know how to talk much about the plot without spoiling things. So I’m going to get vague. Things go wrong in ways that boggle the mind and stretch credulity (not beyond the breaking point, however). Not only is The Railroad real, its influence and power is, too — its reach extends into the FBI and likely is the reason that Lynch found himself out of the Agency. Things start to happen very quickly once Lynch and Rose begin interrogating the hostage taker, and soon they’re working together against the clock for one last shot at The Railroad. Rose working within the system and Lynch once again very far away from it.

The pacing is great, the plot is riveting, the writing is compelling — and the reader will be with these two right up to the very explosive ending, holding your breath frequently enough that an asthma attack might be triggered. Beyond that, I’m going to do something here I don’t normally do (but may begin doing more often, I like it) for “the opinion” portion of this post. As I thought about The Controller in preparation for this post, I found my thoughts falling into three categories — let’s take a look at them in order: The Good, The Bad and The Iffy:

The Good:
I’ve already talked about the pacing, plot, etc. — all the mechanics are really well done and serve the mood and tenor well. So let’s focus on some of the character work here in this section.

While diving into this investigation with the drive and passion almost equal to Lynch, Rose does have an outside life. Her sister is on her case continually to see their mother, to look in on her — she’s suffering from some sort of dementia. It’s so hard on Rose to see her mother that way that she’s responded by virtually abandoning her, she’s had no contact with her for ages. It’s hard to sympathize with, to have empathy for Rose because of this attitude — but it’s as real and understandable as it is despicable. The way that this daughter avoids the mother who has forgotten her stands in stark contrast to the way that Lynch will stop at nothing to see and help his son (who has likely forgotten him after all this time). Brolly could’ve spent time beating the reader over the head with this, but he doesn’t. It’s just there for you to see and draw your own conclusions about.

Lynch isn’t a broken man — well, he is, but he’s not broken down and beaten by life (although you couldn’t blame him if he had been). Life, circumstance and some truly evil men broke him — he’s a shell of who he used to be (in probably every sense). But what’s left in the ruins is a hard, almost merciless, near obsessed man on a mission who will not deviate one iota from that mission once he has a glimmer of hope.

Rose, she’s flawed, but she’s the kind of law enforcement agent you want to believe the world is full of.

She was working on little more than a hunch, and hunches were something she couldn’t abide. Real police work was completed by hard work and diligence, by analysing facts and evidence. Hunches were for a bygone era, for rogue detectives, for fiction and television.

Not that I think many FBI Special Agents consider themselves “police,” but I like the sentiment anyway. And while she’s this kind of Agent — she’s got all that baggage. She is not a perfect character. She’s probably one of my favorite characters this year — her partner for this case (the official one, anyway), McBride is a fun character, too. We don’t get a lot of him, he essentially functions as Rose’s assistant, but he’s a lot of fun (in a book that doesn’t bring the fun very often), and I’m so glad he’s around.

The criminals are well conceived of and well executed. There are monsters walking around in human skins — and we get to see a few of them here. However, this leads us to…

The Bad:
I don’t understand The Railroad. I don’t get their purpose, their actions, how they accumulate power and how. I do get that they’re one of the most evil shadowy conspiracy organizations that I’ve read about. They don’t seem to want to take over the world, or bring down governments or anything — but they’re horribly evil. Monstrous doesn’t come close to capturing their brand of evil. My lack of knowledge stems from the fact that we don’t get a big motive-explaining, super-villain-gloating, exposition-heavy monologue or three from anyone from The Railroad. And I love that. I also am fine with not understanding the group in a certain way.

But if you’re going to give me some big conspiracy that wields influence in at least one national government, I need to believe they have a reason, something. As Walter Sobchak said, “I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” The Railroad probably as an ethos, but no one tells us what it is, and I have a really hard time accepting it because of that.

Earlier, I referred to something stretching credulity — that particular event results in far too many dead bodies and far too little fuss surrounding that event. Given the nature of that event, there would be great internal FBI pressures — and likely Homeland Security reasons to keep it quiet. I’m fine with that, but that wouldn’t stop it from kicking off a major — probably multi-agency — investigation, preventing almost everything that happens in the FBI offices from happening for the rest of the book. I’m not saying Rose and McBride couldn’t have done what they do, and Lynch obviously could’ve pulled off a lot of what he did — but there needs to be more Federal Agents of various stripes on the ground making life hard for them to accomplish what they do. That should’ve been explained away/justified/something. It’s not The Railroad’s influence, unless their reach extends that far into the Government, and we’re not given that indication.

The Iffy:
Let’s start with the easy one, and one that bugged me from early on in the book: how has this obsessed and unemployed man paid rent, bought the copious amounts of alcohol he uses and funded his obsessed investigation? Lynch has no visible means of support and a decent amount of expenses. It wouldn’t take much to explain it away, but we’re not given it.

I get why this is set in the US — Texas in particular. The Railroad needs the space, the extensive rail system, etc. to exist. The plot demands decentralized law enforcement. But if something is set in the US, the characters shouldn’t all talk like people from the UK. The term “Jumper” connotes something very different in Texas than London. Nor should anyone be seeing a lorry on the Texas Interstate, use a Sat-Nav, call their mother “Mum” or “Mummy” and many other things. Brolly is not the only writer to do this kind of thing (many of my favorite novels over the last couple of years do this, too), he just seems to be one of the worst offenders I’ve run across. It takes me out of the moment, re-engages whatever disbelief I’ve suspended and draws attention to any other problems there might be.

Lastly, a couple of days after I finished this, I noticed that this is labeled as “Lynch and Rose #1,” and it made me re-evaluate a lot. I’m not sure how this works as a series. Maybe a duology — possibly a trilogy (I can’t see it as an ongoing series — Rose and McBride, on the other hand…). That would likely take care of a lot of my questions about The Railroad, so I’m happy about that. But knowing there’s a second book leaves me with a different idea about the end of the book — the last line particularly. But there’s nothing in the novel that makes you think there’s another book on the horizon. It’s not impossible, and I trust that Brolly has a strong idea about what’s next. But I didn’t, at any point, think “I can’t wait to see what Lynch and Rose do next.” I did think, “I wonder what Brolly has coming out next,” and am curious how something he writes set in his own country feels.

Now, I’m afraid that given the space I’ve given The Iffy and The Bad that The Good has been overshadowed — also I can’t talk about all of The Good without removing any reason you might have to read the thing — which is sort of the opposite of my point. This is an exciting read with some very interesting and flawed characters (flawed by design, not by Brolly messing up), and a kind of evil, conspiratorial organization that ticks every box on your wishlist for evil conspiratorial organizations. Yes, I have questions, and yes, I found the ending less than entirely satisfying. But all that came up when I started thinking about the book for the purposes of this post and in terms of a series. Were this a stand-alone that I just read and hadn’t written about? I honestly think I’d have just shrugged off the issues if they’d occurred to me. Also, I’m pretty confident from the way he put this together that Brolly knows precisely what he’s doing and that many of my misgivings will be addressed in Lynch and Rose #2 — and I will be pouncing on that as soon as I know it’s available.

It’s exciting, I like the characters, I was genuinely surprised and shocked a couple of times, horrified a couple of times and I want to know more about what happened — Brolly made me curious when he could’ve easily made me disinterested. I can’t list precisely just what it is about his story telling that did the trick, but it worked, and that’s what counts. It’s by no means a perfect novel, but it’s good.


3.5 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the novel) they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Controller by Matt Brolly

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the dark and gripping thriller The Controller by Matt Brolly. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

There are so many people on this tour, you may not be able to read all names on the graphic, click here for a larger image (for me, there’s no underline there, but it will take you to the image, I assure you). There’s a lot of good stuff out there about this book already and more to come — you should see it all (not sure why they’re bothering with a small time bloviator like me).

Book Details:

Book Title: The Controller by Matt Brolly
Publisher: Oblong Books
Release date: May 24, 2019
Format: Ebook
Length: 407 pages

Book Blurb:

From the bestselling author of the acclaimed DCI Lambert series comes The Controller, a gripping serial killer thriller introducing Sam Lynch and Special Agent Sandra Rose.

It is six years since special agent Samuel Lynch left the FBI following the disappearance of his son, Daniel. Lynch believes an underground organization known as The Railroad is responsible and has never stopped searching.

When Special Agent Sandra Rose investigates a house invasion gone wrong, she discovers the assailant has the legendary, and infamous, Railroad tattoo carved onto his back and he claims to know Daniel’s whereabouts.

Rose draws Lynch in to her case, and together they become embroiled in an unparalleled world of violence and evil.

It seems that to see his son again, Lynch will have to confront his greatest fear and face the ultimate test: an encounter with the Railroad’s enigmatic and deadly leader, The Controller.

About Matt Brolly:

Matt BrollyFollowing his law degree where he developed an interest in criminal law, Matt Brolly completed his Masters in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.

He is the bestselling author of the DCI Lambert crime novels, Dead Eyed, Dead Lucky and Dead Embers. The fourth in the series, Dead Time, was released by Canelo in May 2018 and a prequel, Dead Water, will be published in September 2019. In 2020 the first of a new crime series set in the West Country of the UK will be released by Thomas and Mercer (Amazon Publishing).

The Controller, released in May 2019, is the first of a new thriller series set in Texas.

Matt also writes children’s books as M.J. Brolly. His first children’s book, The Sleeping Bug, was released by Oblong Books in December 2018.

Matt lives in London with his wife and their two young children. You can find out more about Matt at his website or by following him on twitter: @MattBrollyUK

Matt Brolly’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website

Purchase Links for I Want You Gone:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Saturday Miscellany — 5/25/19

Happy Towel Day! (in case you missed my earlier posts — yup, three posts on a Saturday this one and this other one). Hope you had fun — the hoopy froods at Re-Pop Gifts in Boise made a nice fuss over the day, and gave out Tea Towels (I now have 2 towels ready to go for next year) — if you’re in the Boise area, you really need to check this store out.

It really doesn’t feel like I spent enough time at my computer this week — as is reflected in my book posts for the week. So when I opened my list o’ links last night to start reviewing them for this post, I was really surprised — I didn’t think I’d taken the time to save anything. I ended up not using everything I considered! It may be hard to believe I didn’t actually end up using everything from CrimeReads that I thought about — only so they don’t sue me. Also, I’m sure to have a little bit of something for next week (which I anticipate will be really slow).

By the way, am I the only one not ready for May to be this over yet?

Enough blathering on, here are the odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Pimp My Airship by Maurice Broaddus — if people had a hard time with Cherie Priest’s steampunk setting, imagine how they’ll feel about Broaddus’ Indianapolis. Looks good — see Paul’s Picks post about it for more.
  • Deception Cove by Owen Laukkanen — The first non-Stevens and Windemere book from Laukkanen was probably not my thing, but was likely really good. This, on the other hand, is totally my bag — an ex-con, a Marine Vet with PTSD, and a corrupt sheriff fighting over a dog.
  • Starship Repo by Patrick S. Tomlinson — swashbuckling SF adventure, heavy on the humor. Looks so good, I just put the first in the series on hold at the library.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to TheReadingNook (I use that theme for a different blog myself — her version looks better), Tony Self and Somik Bndopadhyay for following the blog this week.